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Here I am…

February 7, 2016
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A young Tony Melendez playing.

A reflection for the 5th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings are Isaiah 6:1-2; 3-8; Psalm: 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and Luke 5:1-11.

All this talk about the Zika Virus causing children to be born with a deformed heads has made me think of a whole lot of other children who were born with deformities in the late 50s, early 60s. At the time, pregnant women were given a drug, Thalidomide to help them with their morning sickness. As a result, thousands of babies were born with severe deformities. One of these children was born in Nicaragua. His name is Tony Melendez. Tony was born without arms but he never really saw himself as disabled or even different. Everything you can do with your hands and arms, he is able to do. He can draw, he can write, he drives – he can throw a Frisbee… he can probably even do some things you and I can’t do. At some point, while growing up, Tony figured that he could learn to play guitar and he did. He’s actually pretty good.

In 1987 Tony was singing and playing guitar with his Church group and that year Pope John Paul II was in Los Angeles and Tony was invited to play. He sang a song called Never Be the Same. After that moment, I don’t think Tony’s life was ever the same. When he was done, Pope John Paul got up and jumped down from the stage (to the dismay of his security, I’m sure), walked over to the platform where Tony was sitting and kissed him. (You can watch the video here below.) The look on Tony’s face is one of humility; he’s moved, a bit embarrassed, perhaps. The Pope then says, “Tony, Tony… you are truly a courageous young man. You are giving hope to all of us. My wish to you is to continue giving this hope to all the people.” That night, Tony Melendez had a powerful and moving encounter with the divine – that was an encounter with God and it led to a call. It changed his life and to this day, Tony Melendez continues giving hope to all the people.

This is what always happens after we have a meaningful encounter with God; it leads to a call. Today we have three readings and three call stories, Isaiah’s, Paul’s and Simon Peter’s – they are very different; different people, different locations, different circumstances, but all very similar. In fact, very similar to Tony’s.

First we have Isaiah. He is a prophet. He knows God. He prays. He is all of you who are at Mass every Sunday; maybe even at daily Mass. This is all of you who participate in the Church, who come to our devotions and who are involved. Sometimes God encounters us at prayer and in church. Isaiah has a vivid vision of God in the Temple. He sees God in all his majesty. And there are angels, seraphs (literally, “burning ones”) flying around and singing. They sing, “holy, holy, holy.” This is the song that is always happening in heaven. God is holy. That means that He is separate, He is set apart. But He is not just holy, He is three times holy. He is holy, holy, holy. It’s as if I told you that I met with our pastor yesterday and he was angry. But he wasn’t just angry; he was angry, angry. Or he was ANGRY, Angry, angry. God is not just holy; He is HOLY, Holy, holy. And when Isaiah recognizes this, he recognizes how not-holy he is.

St. Paul has a very similar experience but under very different circumstances. He is not in Church. In fact, he’s doing something that he shouldn’t be doing. He’s persecuting Christians. He’s on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and throw them in jail. How many of us have a personal encounter with Christ when we least expect it? When we are doing something we shouldn’t be doing? When we are angry and proud and, in some ways attacking or persecuting Christ himself? Paul experiences the majesty of God, the Holy, Holy, Holy as a great light; a blinding light. He also, at this moment recognizes how little he is. In the letter to the Corinthians he says that he is the least of the Apostles, not fit to be an apostle – that he was born abnormally or had an untimely birth. In the Gospel today, Simon-Peter has the same response after the miraculous catch. He says, “depart from me Lord, for I am a sinner.”

Simon’s experience is similar, but again, different circumstances. He already knows Jesus. Jesus was at his house the day before healing his Mother-In-Law. Peter is all of us who are good people, who try to live good lives, who pray, but we are busy making a living. We have family and work responsibilities; we can’t always make it Mass.  Sometimes God encounters us while at work, when we’re doing those things we have to do. And like Isaiah and Paul, having that experience with the divine makes Simon realize what a sinner he is. When we have an experience of God, it should make us realize how little we are; how un-holy we are; what sinners we are; it humbles us. I think that’s the look on Tony Melendez’s face after the Pope kissed him. He is humbled. He knows he can do nothing if it’s not because of God. St. Paul also tells the Corinthians that it’s not him but God’s Grace working through him.

After having an encounter with the divine, sometimes we are asked to do something that makes no sense. Isaiah was asked to touch a burning coal to his lips. Have you ever touched a hot-red, burning coal? (a hot, hot, hot c0al)  I did once, by accident, while camping and it was the worst pain I have ever felt. It hurt for two days. This is not something you should try at home. But Isaiah is asked to touch a burning coal to his mouth. Why? God says, “Trust me.” Paul is asked to get up and continue on to Damascus and wait for some Christian to come and help him. What? The Christians who I am persecuting are going to help me? That’s nuts! “Trust me.” Simon-Peter is asked to take the boat out into the deep and throw the nets for a catch. Yeah, really. A carpenter giving fishing advice to a fisherman? They’ve been out all night; there’s no fish and it’s noon. No one goes fishing at noon. “Trust me.” Sometimes God asks us to do something unusual to show us that he’s in charge. So we have to trust him. Play guitar with my feet? That’s crazy! “Trust me. You can do it.” St. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

And in all four cases, once they had their encounter and recognized how Holy, Holy, Holy is God and recognized their unworthiness and were asked to do something unusual, then they were called. Pope John Paul tells Tony, “my wish is that you continue giving hope to all the people.” Jesus tells Simon, “I’m going to make you a fisher of men.” Jesus tells Paul, “Go and be my apostle to the gentiles.” God asks Isaiah, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am Lord.”  That’s how Paul and Simon-Peter respond. That’s how everyone responds: Abraham says, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:1) Moses says, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)  Samuel says, “Here I am.” (1 Samuel 3:4) Mary says, “Here I am. I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38) Will you also say “Here I am”?

We had Confirmations again in our parish this past week and again the young people were challenged, this time, to participate. You will not have an encounter with God if you are not ready to encounter him and be ready to say “here I am.” Mass will be boring if your heart is not in it. Everything is boring if your heart is not in it. The Super Bowl will be boring tonight if your heart is not in it. At Mass Christ will make himself present to us in the Eucharist. But will we be present to him?

God calls everyone. Whether you’re in Church and have a deep prayer life, or whether you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing, or whether you’re just busy living your life, making sure there’s food on the table – whether you have two arms or one arm or no arms. God calls you. Sometimes it happens in an instant; most of the time it happens gradually. I believe God began calling Tony Melendez when he was a little boy growing up in Nicaragua. He began calling Isaiah, Paul and Simon-Peter way before they had these encounters. But at some point they had to respond. And sometimes, while we are slowly being called, we have to help others with their call. If you recognize that someone else is being called – help them.

Next time you’re at Mass, try to be present. Let’s try to let God encounter us. Maybe it’ll happen when we sing Holy, Holy, Holy. Maybe it’ll happen at the Consecration or as you receive the Eucharist. Maybe it will happen when you are distracted and thinking about dinner. No matter. Be sure that when it happens, recognize the Holy, Holy, Holiness of God; recognize your unworthiness; trust Him and then you too can say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

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From → English, Reflections

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